What you are literally asking is difficult.
You are asking a question of the form, “is there a way operating inside of this box to get what I want” and this is very difficult to make happen from within the box.
They are stating, in other words, that they want to follow a specific fair procedure to allocate wages, and you desire to get an outcome which is not directly possible under that fair procedure. This is a direct conflict, and negotiations suck at resolving direct conflicts. Find two kids who both want to use the same doll right now, get them to talk to one another, and you will emphatically not find them agreeing on anything about that doll. The negotiation is pointless if it exists at all, because it exists along one axis.
With that said, it is not impossible. The spreadsheet has rules and you can follow them. “I am sorry to say that this salary is not likely to lead to a deal... is there any way that you can bump me up to the next grade?” or for that matter “I know that on paper I have 4 years of experience but I was working for these two years at a really intense place where I was easily doing 60+ hours/week and the work was much more thoroughly testing my skills here than most people get in a year, perhaps we could say that I have the equivalent of a normal candidate who has 6 years of experience?”
Use negotiation for what it’s good at, instead.
Above I took the example of two kids both wanting to use a doll right nowwww. If one gets the doll, the other does not get it, so any discussion starts at an impasse. Negotiation along one axis is extremely limited—basically, the entirety of one-axis negotiation is “I am going to offer an amount that is too high, they will counteroffer with an amount that is too low, I will counter with some amount that is in the middle but a little towards my side... and we will dance until we end up somewhere halfway between those two initial bids.”
But why am I saying that they are kids? Because kids are short-sighted. Adults who run into the same problem typically have a lot of other courses of action that they consider. Because we don’t just want the one thing, and we don’t just want it right now.
- Sometimes we want different parts of the same thing; I want the piece of the cake in the middle with less frosting, you want the corner piece because you love frosting. Negotiation fixes this effortlessly.
- Sometimes we want the same thing, but we want it different amounts; you care a little and I care a lot. Negotiation works really well if you can find two of these: I will give you a lot more of your must-have, since for me it is only a nice-to-have, if you give me a lot more of my must-have, since for you it is only a nice-to-have.
- Very often we want the same thing but it is not a contested resource. You want respect, I want respect, there is no reason why we cannot both give each other a ton of respect. We both want fairness, we both want to see me working at the company, we both want safety, we both want some mutual problem solved.
- Sometimes we literally do not care about something that the other side cares deeply about.
These are all situations where negotiation can really shine, and the most powerful thing you can do coming into a negotiation is to brainstorm a bunch of different things you can trade off one way or the other.
In the case of this spreadsheet-salary negotiation, what do they want?
They want a fair process. Judging from the discrepancy with what you want, it sounds like you do not feel they would be paying you a fair wage. Can you prove it? Find a bunch of independent sources for how much you as an employee should be making in that line of work. You want hard labor statistics, precisely because they have indicated that fairness is one of their company values. If you can appeal to unbiased third-party sources you can potentially make your case.
They want to decide a fixed spreadsheet number for your annual salary. That might actually not be so bad for you: you are probably less concerned with the number in the spreadsheet and much more concerned with how much your workload is, versus how much you are making annually. There are lots of other sources of revenue, freedom, joy. Here’s a short list of examples.
- You could ask for your contract to have a quarterly bonus in it if you meet certain targets. The salary is still in a spreadsheet box, but this arrangement is additional and it is tied to your performance, and thus may seem fair. Or, if you can think of it, you might ask for a commission for certain routine duties that you perform that make the company money.
- You could ask for a signing bonus, perhaps paid out in four chunks across the course of a year to make sure that you stay with the company when they are paying somewhat below market rate.
- You could negotiate for less work—for example if you are being hired as a systems administrator, you might say “OK that wage is fine for a 40hr/week job, but I would like it in my contract that at that wage I am not wearing a pager and being on-call during non-work hours. If you want me to be waking up and solving problems at 3AM then that is extra responsibility which should come from a higher pay grade.”
- You could for that matter ask for an agreement about overtime work being paid extra.
- You could ask for other things that would make your life more comfortable, “I noticed that we passed several offices that were empty and I would work best in an office, I can do this wage if you can swing me one of those rather than a cubicle. I would even be willing to share it with one of my teammates if it would make executives less wary about the arrangement.” Or for that matter, “I would like to work from a coffee shop every Wednesday, I find that it completely refreshes my brain to simply change my location.” Or, “I have noticed that you have these mandatory-for-all equipment safety meetings weekly and they take up a very large chunk of time, but I am not going to be using any of that equipment, I would like to be excused from those meetings as part of my contract, with the caveat that of course I cannot operate any of that equipment.”
- You could ask for slightly more paid time off, “I know that you probably give more PTO to executives than to normal folks, I was wondering if maybe you could put me on the executive PTO schedule so that I could have more time to care for my spouse, who has some difficult medical conditions that I find myself needing to take some time off of work to support.”
- Or you could ask for some extra freedom, “I wanted it in my contract that I get roughly one day a week which I get to use to improve working conditions at your company in whatever way I see fit. Like if I notice that your accounting department is struggling to file certain reports I might decide, with no need for approval from my boss etc., to spend every Friday for a few weeks building a tool that helps them do their jobs better. I promise to use that time in productive ways to better the company.”
- You could ask for a built-in promotion, “I know you are not hiring me for a senior role just now, but I am interested in that sort of higher responsibility, I was hoping that we could write it into my contract that after a year of work here we would review my performance again and if it was above expectations that I would be promoted into the senior role.”
- You could also in that same vein ask for more responsibility, “as part of this I would also like to take on the added responsibility of being your scrum master for this job, I figure that is something I can take off of my boss’s plate to free up his time for more important things as well as something that I would really like doing in this transition towards a senior role.”
The point is to brainstorm as many of these as possible and then write them down and bring that paper to the contract negotiation room. You want to be able to say “Oh, you can’t do that? No problem! What about this other thing?”
That is where negotiation shines. It is in finding trade-offs along multiple axes, where we both give each other the cheap things that we both want, I give you more of the things that you want more, and you give me more of the things that I want more.
Very few organizations are totally inflexible. Your goal is to find the things you want that they are happy to give you because they do not care so much one way or the other, and ask them to give those to you abundantly in exchange for your sacrifices on the issues that you have to give up on.